Like apples of gold in settings of silver is a word appropriately spoken~ Proverbs 25:11 CJB
I have a sweet Christian friend who has experienced more than her fair share of heartache in recent months. It seems as if every new day brings with it a peculiar crisis or trial for her to contend with. Unfortunately, there are no simple solutions to any of her problems. She’s persevering and keeping the faith, but life has not been easy.
Because I have been challenged by my own set of strange and baffling trials in recent months, she and I spent some quality time commiserating recently. I was struck again by exactly how therapeutic friendship can be. There is something deeply healing about sharing heartache or anxiety with a person who listens without judging and who attempts to figure where you are coming from without you having to explain or defend how you feel.
Eventually our discussion altered course as we drifted from discussing the particulars of our trials to how we are coping with our individual situations. That led to a rather comical exchange as we shared some of the “supportive” guidance we have received from friends and strangers alike over the course of the last few months. Most of the advice falls under the heading of “stupid stuff people should never say.” However, some of it did inspire me to create a short list of do’s and don’ts to keep in mind when dealing with someone who is undergoing a trial.
Use Bible verses judiciously
I love the Bible, and like most Christians I also love intertwining Bible verses with encouragement. That said, not every verse in the Bible is uplifting in every situation. Verses that sound like promises can feel like lies to someone who has been waiting for God to come through on a particular issue. This is especially true when the promise is predicated on the righteousness of the person needing help. One can be left wondering exactly how righteous they need to become to get their prayer answered. The right word in the wrong context can increase anxiety rather than alleviate it. When in doubt, stick to inspiring standbys such as Luke 18:27, 1st Peter 5:7 or Jeremiah 29:11.
Offer to Pray
Do not give advice on how or what to pray. The last lie a hurting person needs to get sucked into believing is that the root of all their troubles is their failure to pray properly. If you have a secret prayer formula that works every time, do not waste precious time giving instructions, just START PRAYING.
Do something nice
Nice gestures need not be big or expensive; in fact, it’s the little things that tend to make the biggest impact. Take your friend out for a slice of pie or a cup of coffee and let them talk freely. Babysit their kids so they can have a little alone time and regroup. Surprise them with a take-and-bake pizza at dinner. Let them know you care with your actions. Both of you will be blessed.
Dismiss their anxiety
It may appear that your friend’s concerns are a bit overblown, but that does not mean they really are. Assume there is information or history you know nothing about that is driving their fear. And for the love of all that is good and decent do not under any circumstances bless your friend with a recitation of Matthew 6:25-34. If your friend happens to be a Christian, you can safely assume that particular passage of Scripture is a constant source of discomfort for them already. If they are not, they will just think you are a nut-job for telling them not to stress about an issue that is clearly worthy of worry. Instead, pray like crazy.
Tell stories with tragic endings
Sometimes in an effort to encourage, people will tell stories about a time when they went through a similar situation. Stories can be a great way to connect with and comfort a hurting person, but only if the story has a pleasant ending. Stories that end with “and then I was homeless for six months” or “it took me seven years to repair my credit” or “I spent eight weeks in a mental institution” do nothing do ease fears and are best left untold.
The tongue holds the power of life and death (Proverbs 21:18). When someone you know is in need of encouragement, speak life. They need that more than any advice you can give.